"Y ou have little understanding of the gravity of this matter, Aster.”

Aster digs her heels into the tiled floor beneath her feet. “I bid you, then, give me an explanation.”

She is shaken. She had expected fury, disappointment. But not this… fear.

Papa gives a long sigh and then he crosses the room and sits down on Mama’s rocking chair. Aster stares. He never sits there. She never sits there. Only Clara has taken to sitting there of late, and Aster can’t help but interpret it as a gesture of defiance: What of our history? What of all that is sacred?

Papa grips the wooden arms. His face is wan. “Mose ben Isaac, with his system of commissions, provides constant work. It ensures that each mapmaker can work according to his areas of strength, it removes competition and forces cooperation. It also earns us a measure of respect by the secular authorities. Our fellowship brings gold — good gold — into this island. When the king demands taxes, we pay.”

Aster nods. It is well known that Mose ben Isaac is a powerful man. But she cannot escape the sense of injustice: From each commission he demands near 70 percent of the profits. He lines his pockets and gilds his home through Papa’s work, while Papa becomes ill and weak and is left without funds to secure a future.

Papa continues. “It has taken him years to build this fellowship, but through his work — and the quality control that he enforces — our island’s maps have become regarded as the finest in Europe. Anyone who needs an atlas or nautical chart, even a compass, writes to Mose ben Isaac.”

Aster crosses her arms around her. “But do you really think that he is doing this for our sake? He has become rich on what he takes from us. And meanwhile, you must work while your eyes dim and your… your strength dwindles. He gives you a pittance, a pittance, of what the maps are worth.”

Papa rocks harder on Mama’s chair. He is in distress, but she cannot stop the words that have been pent up for so long.

“It is not mere greed,” she says. “It is contrary to the moral fiber of our nation. His taking advantage of an old man.”

Papa sighs. “I think he thinks that I am rich. After all, I have the astrolabe.” He closes his eyes for a long moment, then says quietly. “Or maybe he is trying to force my hand. To get his hands on the astrolabe.”

“He… he wants to see us destitute. And then he will tell his wife to employ us as maids and he will rejoice in our downfall.” Her voice winds upward, desperate. “Do you not see, Papa? How can you leave our future in the hands of a man like that?”

Papa claps his hands together in anger. “Enough! Enough, daughter. Do not forget that our lives are in the hands of the Almighty!” He takes a deep breath. “What you say—”

“Yes?”

“—it is tantamount to heresy, acting as if there is no Guide above, as if all depends upon your own efforts. And you have betrayed the fellowship. How is it that you can take a web, an agreement between friends and fellow Jews, brethren, and cast it down so with ne’er a thought? Where is your honesty? Where is your integrity? Where are all the values for which we live and die?” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 569)